Craig H. Neilsen Foundation Awards 2023 Craig H. Neilsen Visionary Prize and  Million Each to Three Leaders in the Spinal Cord Injury Community

Victor Calise, Carmen Daniels Jones, and Vincent Pierce are awarded the Prize for their contributions to the world of SCI.

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 19, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Today, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, the largest private funder of spinal cord injury (SCI) research, education, clinical training, and programmatic support in the U.S. and Canada, announced the 2023 Craig H. Neilsen Visionary Prize recipients. The Prize comes with an unrestricted $1 million award. This year’s Visionary Prize celebrates Victor Calise, Carmen Daniels Jones, and Vincent Pierce – three trailblazers who influence the fields of marketing, advocacy, and arts and entertainment. They all honor Craig H. Neilsen, and his legacy, through their values and work ethic.

“The Neilsen Foundation is honored to award Victor, Carmen, and Vincent the 2023 Visionary Prize,” said Kym Eisner, Executive Director of the Neilsen Foundation. “These three leaders exemplify the values of the Neilsen Foundation and the dedication to changing the world for the better – as our founder did. We’re proud to support them as they continue to make a lasting mark in their efforts to enrich the lives of people living with SCI.”

“The Visionary Prize embodies my father’s determination, passion, and ability to inspire those around them,” Ray Neilsen, Co-Trustee & Chairman of the Board, added. “My father would be so proud to celebrate Victor, Carmen, and Vincent and the lasting impact they have made on the world. I look forward to seeing what they do next.”

Craig H. Neilsen overcame barriers during his lifetime and empowered others to do the same. Prize recipients reflect many of the ideals important to Craig: they are unafraid to take bold risks, possess boundless determination and passion, and inspire others. Established in 2020, the Visionary Prize is awarded annually to important voices whose contributions have improved the lives of those affected by SCI.

Victor Calise, a longtime disability advocate, is currently the Director of Walmart’s recently established Accessibility Center of Excellence in the Belonging, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office. In 1992, at age 22, Victor was injured in a mountain biking accident, which left him paralyzed.

Prior to his time at Walmart, Victor spent over two decades in public service, culminating in his role as Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities under three different Administrations from 2012 to 2022. Responsible for ensuring that New York City is the most accessible city in the world, Victor advised the Mayor and agency partners on accessibility issues, spearheaded public-private partnerships, engaged in major infrastructure changes, implemented accessible taxis, and chaired the Accessibility Committee of the City’s Building Code.

Prior to working in New York City government, he was a disability advocate in the nonprofit sector. His leadership led to the creation of the NYC: ATWORK employment initiative—the city’s first public-private partnership that directly connects individuals with disabilities seeking employment and businesses with open roles. Victor also consistently engaged with innovators in digital accessibility, communications, and autonomous vehicle development to ensure that accessibility remained a priority in technological advancements. He has served in numerous leadership capacities and was appointed to the “New” New York panel, which examined the future of New York City and its economy.

Victor, an avid athlete, competed in the 1998 Paralympic Games in Nagano, Japan as a member of the first U.S. national sled hockey team. A native New Yorker, he lives on the Upper West Side with his wife, Susan, and two daughters.

Carmen Daniels Jones, based in Atlanta, Georgia, is the President/CEO, and founder of Solutions Marketing Group (SMG), a marketing consulting firm that develops data-driven strategies for organizations to market, serve, and employ people with disabilities. Carmen founded SMG in 1999. A car accident during her junior year of college resulted in paralysis. After the accident, Carmen decided to devote her career to uncovering opportunities for people with disabilities, who are often underserved and underestimated. Daniels Jones began her career at The Peninsula Center for Independent Living in Newport News, Virginia, where she worked with people with a range of disabilities.

Carmen advises companies on the viability and economic vitality of the disability market and positions them as inclusive industry leaders. She drives a passionate and informed conversation around the needs and desires of the disability community and provides informed solutions.

In her previous role at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Carmen served as a political appointee of the Obama Administration advancing the President’s agenda to remove barriers for small businesses and socially disadvantaged farmers to access USDA’s services. Carmen has been responsible for helping companies access new markets, and she has worked with global brands, including AT&T, Bank of America, Darden Restaurants, JPMorgan Chase & Co, WellCare Health Plans, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, the Inland Empire Health Plans, Zappos, Hilton, American Express, Sodexo, and ESPN. In March 2023, Carmen was appointed a member of President Biden’s Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Access Board. She also serves on the boards of the United Spinal Association and the World Institute on Disability. 

Vincent Pierce based in New York, is a music producer, gun violence survivor, and community organizer. He is co-director of the arts-and-justice initiative OPEN DOORS. As an OPEN DOORS Reality Poet, he has traveled around New York City sharing his story, poetry, and wisdom. As a teen, Vincent moved to North Carolina, where he studied music and played on multiple basketball teams. In his twenties, Vincent was shot while being robbed at gunpoint, leaving him paralyzed.

In 2019, Vincent began writing poetry after he was inspired by a writing workshop at Open Doors NYC. He started the music program ZING! which, he says, is “showing kids from neighborhoods like the one I grew up in that they are bigger than what their environments expect them to be.” Vincent’s poetry and writings have been published in Wheeling & Healing: A Poetry Anthology Edited by OPEN DOORS Reality Poets. He’s the recipient of a Center for Cultural Innovation Grant, which enabled him to start a music program aimed at keeping youth off the streets and in the studio.

In July 2020, Vincent launched #NursingHomeLivesMatter working for a healthcare system that protects, respects and cares for all those in long-term care, and for those who care for us.

In 2003, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation awarded its first grants—three to be exact. Two programmatic grants totaling just under $50,000 and one research grant for approximately $200,000. Our goal was to advance spinal cord injury (SCI) research and increase access to programming for those living with SCI. Fast forward 20 years, and at the end of 2022, the Foundation has awarded a total of just under 2,300 grants with a total contribution to the world of SCI of over $355 million.

About the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation

The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation is the largest private funder of spinal cord injury research, rehabilitation, clinical training, and programmatic support in the United States and Canada, and draws ongoing inspiration from its founder. The Foundation partners with scientific, charitable, and educational organizations conducting spinal cord injury research, training in spinal cord medicine, and supports grassroots organizations providing services to assist individuals affected by spinal cord injury. The Foundation is dedicated to a future where individuals with spinal cord injuries live full and productive lives as active participants in their communities.

SOURCE Craig H. Neilsen Foundation

Originally published at
Images courtesy of PixaBay

Previous articleFighting drug crime together
Next articleCommission of historians to reappraise the attack at the Olympic Games in 1972 begins work